Where do you think they went?
Little bears turned into Adele groupies on Saturday night at the Gabba…
Adele is blessed with a remarkable voice. Hearing it live is something else. Her voice filled the stadium, and travelled way beyond, courtesy of an excellent sound system. Her voice marks her out. The majority of major pop stars have relied on videos and spectacle to build their audience. Adele has not. She has relied on her singing and her songwriting, and so far, they haven’t let her down. Adele either writes or co-writes most of her material.
At twenty-eight years old, Adele is the most popular living soul singer in the world. When she performs before a crowd, she eschews all the historical trademarks of the style — she rarely improvises; she assumes a stern, nearly pious posture behind the microphone; she doesn’t indulge in frisky, call-and-response high jinks with her band — but soul is inherent in her voice, some kind of heady, insatiable wanting. There is also an absence of synthesised sound, instead Adele is accompanied by a small band including a grand piano, electric guitar, bass, drum kit and the rich tones of back-up singers.
Soul music, an amalgamation of black gospel and rhythm and blues, first found its way onto the pop charts in the 1950s, and reached a kind of apogee in the early 1960s. And it eventually begat dozens of splinter groups, including blue-eyed soul (Hall and Oates, Michael McDonald), and, more curiously, northern soul, a genre based not in a creative impulse but in a curatorial one. In the late 1960s, night clubs in northern England began hosting dance parties where enterprising disc jockeys spun obscure, fast-tempo soul records—limited-run, picayune forty-five-r.p.m. singles issued by regional labels like Golden World, Ric-Tic, Magic City, and Shout.
Adele is not born from either of these subgenres, or not really. Although she was raised in London, and although there are direct echoes of blue-eyed soul acts like Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark in her work, she is a singular kind of belter. A vocalist like Roberta Flack (whose own iteration of soul incorporates rudiments of jazz and easy listening) feels more germane to discussions of Adele’s breadth and precision — and it is impossible to discuss Adele without addressing the particular way she hits each note squarely, completely, avoiding the wobbles and misfires that tend to plague other young vocalists still testing out their ranges. She does not seem constitutionally capable of mouthing a sour note. Yet, like Flack’s, her voice is not a crystal stream. It is a gust of wind that’s picked up some grit.
That soulfulness is a considerable part of what makes her singing so colossally appealing. The perfectly imperfect voice, able to betray its host’s frailty and, by extension, her humanity, is a kind of high-water mark in pop these days. It is extremely difficult to manufacture. It is her instinct, more than anything else, that makes Adele a soul singer in the most expansive and truest sense. Some of the greatest soul songs of all time — Otis Redding’s These Arms of Mine or Bill Withers’s Ain’t No Sunshine — are points of reckoning, reflections, admissions of culpability sung purely and without guile, because what’s it matter now? They are songs from the other side, dispatches, telegraphs that telegraph — Hello from the outside. They want for everything.
It was in 2011 at the Brit Awards when she gave a career-defining, reputation-sealing, sceptic-crushing performance that was witnessed by millions watching live on television and subsequently hundreds of millions catching up online. In her words, her life changed forever the next day.
Adele’s ‘25’ was the best-selling album since Adele’s ‘21’. ’21’ was 6 for 6 at the 2012 Grammy Awards, including song of the year for Rolling in the Deep and album of the year for ’21’. ’25’ was 5 for 5 at the 2017 Grammy Awards, including song of the year for Hello and album of the year for ’25’.
In total, Adele has won 146 awards out of 297 nominations to date. She is the recipient of nine Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, fifteen Grammy Awards, eighteen Billboard Music Awards, five American Music Awards and two Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriter of the Year.
From a production point of view, the concert was a piece of showbiz perfection. The attention to detail was forensic and the presentation as slick as a diplomat’s dinner party.
The soul-baring nature of Adele’s music combined with jazz and soul influences breathes new life into the simple pop ballad and reaffirms its confessional capabilities as a soothing balm to emotional scars, new and old. She proves that you don’t need razzamatazz to entertain and engage an audience, by reaching the balance between an extravagant stage with an effervescent and deeply personal performance practice. There are celebrated pop musicians who fall into the trap of trying to sell a story with over-production or choreography. The difference is that Adele simply tells her story and, in many ways, we find that it’s our story too.
As the legendary critic Greil Marcus once said about Dusty Springfield, “She just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it”.
Adele: The Full Story on BBC
Adele Live 2017 received a Helpmann Award nomination for Best International Contemporary Concert.